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Do You Hear What I Hear? [Part 4]

Over the last few posts we’ve been exploring the idea of being competitive in today’s retail market.  One of the ways be being competitive is to create or introduce new products and services to help your customers.  So the question became – where do we get the ideas we need to stay competitive?  I’ve suggested that there are three groups that as stakeholders we need to listen to so that we understand the market and our customer’s needs.  The first is the customer herself and the second group is our store staff.

Probably the most unlikely group that we need to listen to is our competitors.  For most retailers, the rival companies vying for the same customer is the last entity that they want to enter into a dialogue with.

Don’t worry.  That is not necessarily what I’m suggesting.

I think that there are two ways that we can learn from our competition.  The first is by observing what they are doing and how they are doing it.  We often talk about “knowing” our competition in the market.  But do we really know them?

The best way to understand the competition is to shop with them.  You need to wander the aisles, see the products, and interact with their staff.  By doing these things, you can listen for the competitive heartbeat of the store.  What is working for them?  What isn’t working?  Where are the gaps and vulnerabilities in their offer that can be exploited in your market?

Everything that you can glean from visiting the store can be used in your own business.  Copy and improve the ideas that work and figure out what doesn’t work and why and apply those lessons to your own stores.

The second way of listening to your competition is to talk to retailers who would be your competition except for the fact that they are located in another market.  The best way to do this is to join your state or national industry associations (for the convenience store industry it is NACS).  The networking and idea sharing that is available to you at these events is worth far more than the cost of membership.

An additional bonus is if you can visit a “competitor’s” store in a different market.  I always find it fascinating how convenience is defined in other markets.  The product and service offerings are sometimes radically different from what we do in our home market.  Or it may be the same products and services but offered in a different way or in a unique context.  Of course, some ideas don’t always translate well (selling road salt in Texas comes to mind) but every observation can be the catalyst for a new idea or an incremental improvement to an existing one.

So, in summary – to be a viable business in today’s world your business must be constantly moving forward.  Remember: Compete is a verb.  And the best way to stay competitive is to listen to your customers, your staff, and your competition.

If you are not moving forward you are falling behind.